Is your home toxic? Is your house making you sick? Do you have a feeling that the place where you live is making you ill or causing health problems? Or are you just wondering if you have a healthy home?
A house or home can cause health problems just like the food you eat, the water that you drink, or the products that you apply to your body. Your home can protect and nurture your health – or compromise your health. Just because it’s a building does NOT mean that it can’t impact your health.
I know from personal experience. And so do many of my family members.
Among the factors leading to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia, for me, was a massive mold infestation in the wall right beside my bed.
My husband was sick will allergies every morning of his life when we lived in an old, historic home. As soon as we moved to a new construction home he had no more morning sniffles. It was because of mold (We rented and the homeowners were unwilling to remove the visible mold. There wasn’t much we could do to fix the situtation.)
That’s just TWO of the situations that I could tell you about with my family being ill from a building – there’s plenty more instances, too.
A sick home or a toxic home is a very real problem, and I understand.
Your home is where you spend most of your time – outside of work. You need to know if it’s causing you health problems or not. Diagnosing a toxic home is not easy. At least not as easy as going to a doctor and asking for a test to see whether you’ve got a problem or not.
To create a truly healthy home – not a toxic home – you’ve got to understand what the problems might be and how to test for them.
Is Your Home Toxic?
You might be getting worried about your home being toxic if you’ve suddenly started putting two and two together. For instance, you notice that you’ve always got a headache when you’re in your home. Or the kids allergies or asthma only flares up when they have spent a lot of time in their bedroom.
Perhaps you went away for a vacation for a week and suddenly felt better than you have in a while, and then when you came home your skin started itching severely again. Or now you’ve got brain fog for reasons other than being overworked.
Maybe you had company over and they commented on that weird smell in your house – the one that you’ve been wondering where it’s coming from, too.
Or perhaps you’re so tired at home you can’t drag yourself off of the couch at night, but you seem to perk back up with energy at your office or while away from home.
Have you gone through every medical test, every allergy elimination diet and been on a million medications and supplements – but still you’re not getting well?
Sick Building Syndrome
Think a toxic home isn’t really a problem? Well, it is. So much so that the EPA (the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) uses the term Sick Building Syndrome. The EPA says that Sick Building Syndrome is a term used to “describe situations in which building occupants experience acute health and comfort effects that appear to be linked to time spent in a building, but no specific illness or cause can be identified.”
It’s not just an American problem, either. Sick Building Syndrome is found around the world.
The symptoms of Sick Building Syndrome can be different for everyone, but the most common symptoms are:
- Dry cough
- Eye, nose and throat irritation
- Skin problems
- Problems with concentration
- Odor sensitivity
When an illness can be clinically diagnosed and proven to be contributed directly to a building, it is then called a Building Related Illness.
Getting a Home Diagnosis
Finding out if you have a problem isn’t always easy. But there are ways to get some real answers, too.
A variety of home test kits are available, both through online stores such as Amazon, as well as independent scientific organizations, non-profit groups and community health organizations.
Hiring a professional to come and test your home for mold, lead, asbestos, radon or other toxic items in your home is possible, too.
However, getting an accurate reading to find out “Is Your Home Toxic?” is harder than you might think.
I don’t want to dissuade you, but the inspection process can be full of empty promises and claims. While testing for radon is pretty cut and dry, trying to test for VOCs or mold has a lot more leeway involved. And this USA Today report of the errors and pitfalls of just trying to find out if you’ve got lead pipes bringing your water supply pretty much sums up the frustration of homeowners trying to find out if their property can be hazardous to their health.
This is a tough one, and yet a toxic home problem that is so common it is ridiculous. Mold is a naturally occurring fungus spore that floats through the air. You CANNOT get rid of the fungus permanently. Which is why it’s so important to make sure conditions aren’t ripe for mold to start growing and spreading. Because it will.
Mold is also really hard to see or detect. If it’s on the surface of a wall, it’s easy. Too often, though, the health problem grows behind walls where you can’t see or smell, and even trained professionals can’t really tell if it’s in there unless they start opening up the walls.
Mold can cause health problems, including:
- Runny nose
- Skin rash
- Red and watery eyes
- Upper respiratory problems
There are some mold test kits you can use and order online. Some offer free consultation with the test results, others are pretty basic. It all depends on how in depth you want to get.
Licensed mold inspectors are a good idea for when you’ve got a confirmed problem, you think you might have the very toxic black mold, or you want to really get an intense opinion about whether you’ve got mold.
I say that with a caveat, though. I’ve seen the renovation TV programs such as Property Brothers where the property was inspected by a mold inspector, said to have no mold, then a renovation starts taking place and there’s mold throughout the walls.
Mold can hide anywhere, and if there isn’t a moisture problem causing a red flag for an inspection and it’s not visible or causing an odor – you just never know. So you’ve got to listen to your body and really reduce all factors that can cause mold to grow.
I’ve written a lot about the invisible health problems of lead. It’s a serious danger to more homes than anyone realizes.
Health problems with lead include:
- Muscle and joint pain
- Kidney problems
- Fatigue / Irritability
- Hearing Loss
- Lower IQ levels
- Difficulties with learning and reading
- Shortened attention spans
- Delays in physical and mental development
- Abnormal and reduced sperm
There are a LOT of health problems with lead that you might be experiencing. Lead does not just disappear or go away if it’s in your home.
There can be lead in your water (read my article on how to find out if lead is in your water and how to get rid of it) but also in your paint, in your soil, on furniture, etc.
Certified lead inspectors can be found through this EPA website. Keep in mind, they are going to test for lead based paint. Testing for lead in pipes or in the ground soil is usually something else – and you’ll want to clarify what you’re looking for and concerned about with the professional.
VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) are a serious health issue inside your home, regardless of where you live or how clean you are. VOCs are the little bits of chemicals and toxins that escape from items in your home, such as furniture, cabinets, rugs, flooring, adhesives, building materials, candles, cosmetics, and more. The process of the VOCs escaping into the air that you breathe is called off gassing, and there are ways to prevent it, including these smart choices of how to create a low VOC kitchen.
Trying to test for VOCs is possible. There are VOC home test kits that you can order online (here’s my experience with using a home VOC test kit). Among the biggest offenders of VOC contamination is formaldehyde, a big toxic off-gassing chemical that comes from flooring, MDF products, cabinets, etc.
There are VOC inspections that can be performed by a professional in your home. They’re not as common as mold or radon inspectors, but there are professionals out there. They might be called a home inspector, industrial hygienist, or some other term. A VOC home test can measure for hundreds of chemicals in the air.
Then the tough part is to find out what is releasing those VOCs. It could be flooring, walls, paint, furniture, a mattress – a whole lot of things. This is where a truly well-versed VOC inspector is valuable. He or she can help direct you to a possible culprit.
Concerned about radon in your home? You should be.
Radon exposure kills more than 57 Americans EACH day. That’s 21,000 every year and 12% of all cancers, according to RadonAwareness.org.
You likely won’t feel any health problems from radon. Lung cancer is the only known human health effect from air-based radon exposure.
Radon occurs naturally in the earth. It is a radioactive gas and a known carcinogen.
Testing for radon is simple and easy. You can order home test kits online.
Short-term radon tests tell you quickly whether you might have a radon problem that needs to be fixed. Long-term tests will give you a better idea of what your home’s radon levels actually are.
Kansas State University’s National Radon Program Services, which is funded by the EPA, sells affordable short-term test kits for $15 and long-term test kits for $25. Some state health departments might offer low-cost or free radon test kits, as well. The EPA has a listing of state radon offices for you to contact and see what your options are.
Want to hire someone for solid testing, or take care of a confirmed radon problem? The National Radon Safety Board and the National Environmental Health Association’s National Radon Proficiency Program are good places to start.